By Jonathan Davies

You expect many things from BBC's The Apprentice; horrendous business decisions, bitching, arguing, arrogance, Lord Sugar telling candidates to shut up, a raised eyebrow from Nick and Karen.

What you might not expect is serious issues to be raised. But that's exactly what happened on the first episode of the tenth year of The Apprentice.

Women in business has been an issue for a number of years. There have been huge advances in how women are treated in business. Now, the debate is over whether or not to introduce quotas for the number of women in the boardroom.

But businesswomen, and businessmen, actually, the vast majority of viewers, were sent into shock by the comments of one candidate; Sarah Dales.

Sarah was appointed project manager for the first task, the traditional guys vs girls selling task to kick-off the series. But her comments about women in business soon painted a pretty dire picture.

“Most people will buy from females because females look more attractive,” she told her team.

She demanded her team wear short skirts, high heels and "bring some nice make up”.

Sarah's comments were far from pleasing to one of the country's most impressive businesswomen, Karen Brady, who forged her career running a male-dominated industry at Birmingham City Football Club.

Ms Brady said: "I think Sarah is rather lucky that I wasn't following her. She may not have lasted very long.

"I think it's a very old fashioned attitude, that you've got to wear short skirts and a lot of make up to get on in life. Most women will look at that and laugh."

On The Apprentice: You're Fired programme, which airs on BBC Two after the main show, Dale Murray CBE, a successful business women who currently works with the government's Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) and is a trustee for the Peter Jones Foundation, joined Karen in her criticisms.

Dale said: "I think it's very, very dangerous to tell anybody how to dress in a business environment. These are successful women, they've all been selected to come onto this competition and they know how to present themselves.

"She was unfortunately showing her hand very, very clearly that she was quite power hungry, quite controlling and that was only going to get one response from a group of women who are successful in their own right.

"But the other side of it is, as well, is short skirts, lots of make-up in order to get the business deal done...ouch! That is not right at all."

And it's not just those who appeared on the show last night that have been outraged.

Louise Findlay-Wilson, founder and managing director of Energy PR, said: “I found her comments incredibly depressing but to be honest she was pretty brainless in so many ways that I was spoilt for choice in terms of what to find offensive!

“Her project management style in general was pitiful; she had no idea how to motivate, manage or be part of a team. A short skirt might garner sales in some situations but it isn’t going to rescue anyone so short of common sense!”

Ashleigh McLeod from Stone Junction Ltd said: “[Her] comments were ludicrous - not to mention, extremely old fashioned. Whilst the ‘sex sells’ argument may still exist for products related to the way you look, solely relying on your appearance as a business woman is unintelligent and lazy.

"Believing that ‘short skirts, high heels and nice make up’ will manipulate your customers into buying products is highly offensive to both men and women. Customers will buy great products and services from business people they trust, regardless of skirt length."

Even former Apprentice candidates were quick to condemn Sarah's comments.

Uzma Yakoob, who appeared on The Apprentice in 2013, said: "The key to being successful in business is hard work, determination and knowing your business inside and out. Wearing short skirts and a lot of make-up to be successful is not only very old fashioned way of thinking but I feel its an excuse most women use to dress and look the way they desire. If they want to be successful they should be focused on the actual business at hand or in this case 'the task'.

"When I was on Apprentice last year I actually remember one person (not mentioning any names) looking through their wardrobe trying to find a dress that was provocative and attractive enough to help them win a sales pitch…they didn't win it (shocking). I think amongst some women, regardless of how young or old, this will always be a tact that will be used. what these women do not understand is that this outlook is not only demeaning to other women but also to themselves and they won't be taken seriously for long."

And finally, what about a man's perspective? I caught up with another 2013 candidate, Alex Mills. He said: "What she said there is an absolute zinger as far as TV is concerned, so they are going to include it.

"I don't know whether she's coming across as serious or whether she's coming across as a little bit tongue-in-cheek. But she shouldn't have said it, should've known better for the fact that there are TV teams around her."

The Apprentice returns tonight (Wednesday) on BBC One at 9pm. You can join in the conversation on Twitter @freshbusiness.

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